A Recollection This past Wednesday night, I loaded my car up and headed north out of town to shoot league trap with my buddies. While on the road that evening, I was fortunate to be blessed with three occurrences. 1) We finally had weather that was characterized by temperatures above 50 degrees 2) Eric Church seemed to be dominating the radio station I was listening to and 3) my DSLR camera was stashed in the back seat so I could capture this image of a big ole gander perched atop a tussock sedge.
While sitting on the roadside observing, I recalled one of my favorite Aldo Leopold quotes.....
“What is a wild goose worth? As compared with other sources of health and pleasure, what is its value in the common denominator of dollars? I have a ticket to the symphony. It stood me two iron men. They were well spent, but if I had to choose, I would forgo the experience for the sight of the big gander that sailed honking into my decoys at daybreak this morning. It was bitter cold and I was all thumbs, so I blithely missed him. But miss or no miss, I saw him, I heard the wind whistle through his set wings as he came honking out of the gray west, and I felt him so that even now I tingle at the recollection. I doubt not that this very gander has given ten other men two dollars' worth of thrills. Therefore I say he is worth at least twenty dollars to the human race."
Aldo's story eludes to what environmental scientists call Ecosystem Services. Quoting the National Wildlife Federation, an ecosystem service is "any positive benefit that wildlife or ecosystems provides to people". These services are often hard to place a monetary value on and come in many forms.
If you have a garden in your backyard, I can almost guarantee that you have benefited from at least one ecosystem service: pollination via wild honey bees. According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, more than 90 American crops valued at more than $9 billion depend on bees for pollination. While most of the bee colonies are now regulated by bee keepers, wild populations play an important role in pollination for backyard gardeners who do not keep bees themselves.
So if you have veggies and other plants growing in your backyard, wild honey bee populations should be important to you. What would happen if wild honey bees or other pollinators ceased to exist? How much would you be willing to pay to ensure the proliferation of home grown groceries? Think about it.
Coming Full Circle
This brings us back to the goose - of what value is it to society? First of all, there are birders who have an appreciation for these creatures and hunters that use geese as a food source. Secondly, think about all the businesses that rely on sustainable populations of these birds, such as decoy companies, call makers, hotels, convenience stores, gunsmiths, boat fabricators and guides. I'm sure, given a budget and years of research, one could make a valid argument linking jobs and economic trends in the waterfowl industry to fluctuations in waterfowl populations. By figuring out the value that waterfowl have in dollars to the human population, we waterfowlmaniacs could have a better chance of educating the general public of the benefits these birds have to both hunters and non-hunters.
I think Leopold made his case in attempting to place a price tag on his experiences with that lucky gander. As waterfowl hunters, conservationists, and humans, it is our duty not to forget the enjoyment that we receive from the outdoors at little or no cost to us. By giving back through organizations such as Delta Waterfowl, who have spent over 100 years studying the best management practices for sustainable waterfowl populations, we can assure that ducks and geese will fill our skies for years to come. Hopefully one day my children's children will be able to pull over on the side of the road and appreciate the beauty of a lone gander, just as Aldo and I did.